A group of public defenders on Thursday called on President Biden to visit Rikers Island when he comes to the Big Apple next week so he can “witness firsthand” the “unmitigated humanitarian crisis” plaguing the notorious jail complex.
“Biden’s visit to New York City is an opportunity for this nation’s leader to witness firsthand the horrendous conditions New Yorkers endure each day on Rikers Island — conditions that should serve as a reminder of why incarceration is not a panacea for public safety concerns,” reads a joint statement signed by the Legal Aid Society, the Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, New York County Defender Services, the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and the Queens Defenders.
“New York City jails remain in an unprecedented and unmitigated humanitarian crisis that has no end in sight.”
Biden is slated to meet with Mayor Eric Adams on Feb. 3 to discuss strategies to combat gun violence following the ambush killing last week of two NYPD officers in Harlem.
It’s unclear if the president has any other meetings on his agenda, and when asked if he’d come to Rikers Island, his office didn’t return a request for comment.
The public defender groups, who provide free legal services and assistance to some of New York’s most vulnerable residents and frequently call for mass decarceration, said the conditions on Rikers Island should “alarm all elected officials.”
“At a time when people are consistently denied basic medical and mental health care and are enduring inhumane and dangerous conditions, including an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases, we should be moving towards immediate decarceration,” the groups said.
“Focusing instead on discredited punitive and surveillance-based approaches that feed mass incarceration and send even more people into facilities that cannot keep them safe demeans democracy and endangers everyone.”
Rikers Island has been in the throes of a crisis brought on by decades of mismanagement, a ballooning jail population and hordes of uniformed staff failing to show up for work because of the poor conditions and the frequent need to work triple shifts.
Jailhouse sources told The Post this week that conditions on the island remain status quo following the appointment of Luis Molina as the city’s new Department of Correction commissioner at the start of the year.
Chaos reigns as gangs continue to rule certain housing areas and violence against staff and inmates alike remains a constant.
Molina, beloved by the city’s jail unions, has sought to encourage staff to return to work to improve conditions and has promised to fix the maligned system and make it safer.
The DOC didn’t return a request for comment.
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